Chapter 23 : Dominoes
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‘Dad’s going to kill me,’ Albus blurted out, unable to stand the silence any longer. ‘This is worse than anything James ever did.’ The eleven-year-old pulled his legs up against his chest as he hunched forward on the edge of a low chair.
Louis murmured a quiet agreement. ‘Vic and Dom never got in trouble like this,’ he added, head between his hands as he slumped on a cheap plastic seat. ‘What if we get expelled?’
Daniel forced himself into a half-sitting position on top of the rigid mattress where he had tried, and failed, to find a moment’s rest. ‘We’re not getting expelled,’ he argued. ‘What have we done wrong?’
Albus grunted. ‘We’re about to get questioned by Aurors,’ he emphasised the word. ‘Don’t you get how serious that is?’
‘We haven’t done anything wrong,’ Daniel repeated. ‘How bad can it be?’
‘We broke the statute!’ Albus exclaimed. ‘People have gone to Azkaban for that!’
Daniel shot upright. ‘We sent Charlie one owl, to try and save his life, and someone tried to kill him this morning anyway. It’s not us they’re going to be sending to Azkaban!’
‘Dan,’ Louis interrupted, coughing as he heard his own weak voice. ‘Dan,’ he tried again, ‘remember Al’s Dad is Head Auror.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Daniel swallowed. ‘Shit,’ he murmured. ‘Sorry, mate… I forgot.’
Albus lifted his head up, staring back across the yellow light of the room towards his friend. ‘Do you get it now?’ He asked, sarcastically, and Daniel nodded, before the room faded back into silence once again: a silence that persisted until the wooden door creaked open and Greg’s head peered around the corner.
‘Boys,’ the teacher greeted his pupils simply. ‘Mind if I have a word?’ He waited for a reply, before edging into the room, quietly closing the door behind him as no response came. ‘I’ve just been talking to the Auror in charge of the case,’ he explained, ‘and I don’t reckon he knows anything more than I do… if that.’
Greg’s eyes flickered around the spartan room, from one boy to the next, as the eleven-year-olds stared warily back at him.
‘You guys do know something, though,’ he continued. ‘Dan, those things you told me this morning… You couldn’t have said them if you didn’t.’
The muggle-born boy shifted uncomfortably on the heavy mattress as his friends’ stares turned towards him. ‘I had to,’ he murmured, before his voice grew louder. ‘You know I had to! Where would Nathan and Charlie be now if I hadn’t?’ Daniel’s eyes suddenly widened. ‘Oh, shit! Connor!’ He sprung to his feet, calling out even as the teacher stepped forward to interrupt. ‘He’s in hospital in Oxford! Charlie’s the only one who’s been to see him!’ The boy’s thoughts began to race ahead. ‘What if they know? What’s going to happen to him? What, what…’
‘Dan,’ Greg pleaded, placing the palms of his hands on the boy’s shoulders. ‘I don’t know,’ he spoke softly, ‘but I do know that the best chance we’ve got of working it all out is if we all work together.’
‘Are we going to get into trouble?’ Louis’ voice was quiet again, barely audible over the background hum of the busy hospital.
The teacher sighed. ‘I don’t know, mate,’ his shoulders sunk, ‘but if you do, then you can bet your last knut that I’ll be in twice as much.’
Louis blinked. ‘Why?’
‘In loco parentis,’ Greg answered, simply. ‘If this had happened when you were at home, your Mum and Dad would have been responsible. At school… it’s me.’
‘That’s stupid!’ Albus stood up. ‘It’s not your fault what happened,’ he insisted. ‘You didn’t even know about most of it!’
‘That’s the point,’ Greg winced. ‘I should have.’
‘How? We never told anyone.’
The teacher shrugged. ‘Someone found out, though, didn’t they?’ he observed. ‘How else do you explain two kids ending up in hospital…?’
‘Three,’ Daniel corrected him.
Albus sunk back onto the cold plastic of his seat. ‘Yeah,’ he murmured, ‘I guess…’
‘What are we going to do about Connor?’ Daniel quickly returned the conversation to the fate of his injured friend. ‘We can’t just leave him!’
Greg took another deep breath. ‘But we can’t do anything for him unless you guys start talking.’ He forced a grim smile onto his lips. ‘If you don’t give the Aurors a good reason to help him out, they aren’t going to do anything. It’s like playing dominoes… you’ve got to knock the first one over before anything else happens.’
‘Then let’s knock one over!’ Daniel’s voice rose. ‘If it was you in that bed, wouldn’t you want us to help? Besides, if we don’t do anything, then doesn’t it look like it’s just gonna be us next?’
‘Yeah,’ Albus grimaced. ‘It’s like we can’t escape it.’ He gritted his teeth. ‘I’m in,’ he announced, ‘but I want to talk to my Dad first.’ The eleven-year-old turned to face his cousin. ‘Louis?’
The redhead nodded. ‘Yeah,’ he answered. ‘Slytherins Stick Together, right?’
‘Right,’ Greg echoed. ‘I’ll go and talk to the Aurors first, and then we’ll take it from there.’
‘Someone should stay with Nathan,’ Louis interrupted. ‘Just in case he wakes up.’
‘Good idea,’ the teacher noted. ‘Do you want to do that? Al’s got to go and see his Dad, and I think Dan needs to come with us when we go to find Connor.’
‘Yeah,’ Louis answered quickly, ‘I’ll stay.’ He pushed himself to his feet, reaching out a hand towards the cubicle door, before pausing as he grasped its handle. ‘Good luck, guys.’
The redheaded boy’s walking pace slowed to a hesitant stroll as he pushed open the double doors that led back to the Borthwick Ward. He edged between the two rows of beds, each one holding a motionless child, realising as he made his way along the room that he was holding his breath as he walked.
‘Hi,’ Louis managed, weakly, as he arrived beside the Healer stationed next to Nathan’s bed.
‘Hello, kid,’ the man nodded a reply, extending a hand in greeting. ‘Lucas Brand.’
‘I’m Louis,’ the eleven-year-old stuttered, ‘Louis Weasley.’ He took the man’s offering as he brushed his fringe away from his eyes with his free hand.
Louis jerked his hand away. ‘So… so what if I am?’ The boy glared at the Healer, who barely raised an eyebrow.
‘Then it would make two of us,’ he answered, coolly, watching the redhead blush furiously.
‘I’m sorry,’ Louis mumbled. ‘I, I didn’t…’ he swallowed. ‘How did you know?’
‘Greg,’ the Healer replied simply, before adding to his answer as the boy beside him kept his counsel. ‘He’s Professor Bennett to you, I suppose. We were at school together.’
‘Oh,’ Louis’ sentences were still struggling to extend beyond a few syllables. ‘Were you in the same year?’
‘The same dorm,’ Lucas smiled. ‘For seven years. We knew each other pretty well by then.’
‘Oh,’ the boy echoed, still feeling the flush of embarrassment hot against his cheeks. ‘Sorry,’ he repeated. ‘Do you think Nathan’s going to be alright?’
The Healer took a deep breath. ‘He ought to be,’ Lucas answered. ‘No reason why he shouldn’t; it doesn’t look like it’s much more than exhaustion.’
Louis nodded, reaching out to take the motionless hand of his friend. ‘It’s cold,’ he observed, numbly.
‘Yes,’ Lucas calmed him. ‘We’d expect it to be. When the body is ill, it sends more blood to the essential organs – the heart, the brain, the lungs – because they can’t survive without oxygen, but the skin can.’
‘Right,’ the eleven-year-old acknowledged, letting Nathan’s hand drop limply back onto the mattress. ‘When do you think he’ll wake up?’
‘I’m not sure,’ the Healer had no choice but to shake his head, ‘but I reckon you could do a lot worse than keeping hold of his hand… just let him know you’re here.’
Louis managed a thin smile. ‘Yeah,’ he mumbled. ‘Were you friends?’ he asked bluntly, flicking the untidy fringe of his red hair away from his eyes.
Lucas smiled. ‘Yes,’ he reminisced. ‘Greg was the first person who ever gave me a chance, who ever thought I wasn’t just going to be like my brother Kevin.’
‘Cool,’ the boy acknowledged. ‘I never really had any proper friends before I started at Hogwarts, either…’ He took a deep breath. ‘I’m part-Veela.’
The Healer turned, staring at the eleven-year-old. ‘Veela?’ he echoed. ‘But…’
‘I know,’ Louis looked down, ‘I’m a boy. I shouldn’t exist.’ He tried to force a smile.
‘You do, though, don’t you?’ Lucas assured him, ‘and I learned a long time ago that there’s no point worrying about things that you can’t do anything about.’
Louis nodded. ‘I guess,’ he mumbled. ‘Still, I wish I knew why it had happened to me.’
‘Is this the right place?’ Greg turned to his student as the two Slytherins emerged into the cold of an Oxford morning, this time accompanied by a pair of Aurors in the dull pin-stripe grey of muggle business suits.
‘Yeah,’ Daniel, who hadn’t uttered a word since he had left the waiting room beside the Borthwick Ward, broke his silence to confirm that the cold, angular buildings in front of him did indeed belong to the John Radcliffe Hospital.
The teacher nodded. ‘Right,’ he summarised. ‘You lead the way; find out where he is now, and see if you can get visiting. We’ll do the rest.’
The eleven-year-old took a deep breath, leading the three men across the drab network of side roads that surrounded the hospital and into the building’s reception, leaving the chill of the December morning outside. ‘Hi,’ he mumbled, as he approached the reception desk. ‘My friend’s here,’ he explained, ‘and I’d like to visit him, please.’
The woman on the other side of the reception desk nodded. ‘What’s his name?’
‘Connor Norris,’ Daniel answered. ‘He got hit by a car this week…’
‘He’s in Tom’s Ward,’ the receptionist answered, disinterested, before the boy had a chance to tell any more of his story. ‘Up the stairs, on the first floor.’
‘Okay,’ Daniel swallowed, ‘thank you.’
The receptionist shut her eyes for a moment, before shaking her head, stretching her eyelids and blinking again. ‘Have a good day.’
‘You too,’ Daniel replied automatically, before turning his back and edging across the hallway to his teacher. ‘Memory charm?’ he whispered, and the man nodded.
‘Can never be too careful, mate,’ Greg replied. ‘We’re not taking any chances.’ He forced a lighter tone into his voice. ‘First floor, wasn’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ Daniel confirmed, his voice stuttering.
‘Come on, then,’ Greg held an arm around the boy’s shoulders. ‘No time like the present.’
The two wizards took the short flight of stairs in silence, before pausing on the top step as Daniel grabbed a handful of the man’s jacket. ‘Sir,’ he muttered. ‘What’s going to happen?’
Greg took a deep breath. ‘It looks like he’s conscious,’ the teacher concluded, ‘if he’s been moved to this ward… which might make it a little more difficult to Apparate him out to St. Mungo’s.’
Daniel blinked. ‘You’re going to Apparate him out?’ He echoed.
‘How else are we going to do it?’
The boy shivered. ‘Well, I, I thought…’ he shook his head. ‘I thought you might be able to tell the hospital he had to be transferred somewhere else, and then take it from there…’
‘That’s not a bad idea actually, mate,’ the man acknowledged, ‘but I’m not sure I fancy being on the road with a target painted on the back of my car…’ his expression turned solemn. ‘How do we know who we can trust?’ He asked, rhetorically. ‘The fewer people that know about it, the better.’
Daniel nodded, slowly, his face pale.
‘Come on, mate,’ Greg shook the boy gently. ‘Connor needs to see a friendly face.’
‘Yeah,’ the eleven-year-old agreed, a look of determination crossing his features. ‘What should I say to him?’
‘Keep it simple,’ the man advised. ‘Just tell him that you need him to trust me, and take my hand. They’re expecting us in the Borthwick.’
Daniel hesitated. ‘What about the Statute…?’
‘Dan,’ the teacher smiled. ‘We’re with Aurors… I think that probably means we’re alright. Besides, your friend’s life’s at threat. That would get us round the Statute, anyway.’
‘Fine,’ Daniel gritted his teeth. ‘Here goes.’ The boy pushed open the doors that led to the children’s ward, explaining himself briefly to the nurses on duty and turning his back before he could see the effects of the tell-tale flashes of white light that he knew would quickly follow. Connor’s bed was only a short distance into the ward, and the blond boy’s neck was still supported by a sturdy brace, above a chest decorated by a patchwork of cuts and bruises.
‘Dan!’ The blond boy gave a shout of recognition that quickly merged into a gasp of pain.
‘Connor…’ Daniel ran to his friend’s beside, letting his weight fall against the steel rail at the edge of the mattress. ‘Shit, mate…’
Connor snorted. ‘Yeah,’ he managed a wry smile. ‘You could put it like that.’
The brown-haired boy shook his head. ‘What happened…?’
‘I got hit by a car,’ Connor explained. ‘I was crossing the road on the way to school, and it was like it came out of nowhere…’
‘Did you see what sort of car it was?’ Daniel tried to force a casual tone into his voice.
Connor shrugged. ‘No, I don’t remember,’ he winced. ‘Like I said, it was like it just came out of nowhere.’
Just Like Magic, right?’ Daniel’s voice turned cold, and his friend shivered as he heard the words.
‘Yeah,’ the blond boy murmured, his brain starting to make fresh connections. ‘Shit,’ he bit his bottom lip. ‘You don’t think that he… he was trying to… to…’ Connor shut his eyes, unable to finish his sentence.
‘It’s too much to be a coincidence, isn’t it?’ Daniel observed, matter-of-factly, and his friend jerked a hand to cover his fast-reddening eyes. ‘I’m sorry, mate…’ Daniel tried to backtrack.
The other boy swallowed. ‘It’s fine, Dan,’ he sniffed. ‘It’s not your fault… I, I… Why me?’ Connor snapped, suddenly. ‘What did I do?’
‘I guess you kept your memory after the bombs in Oxford,’ Daniel answered, bluntly. ‘You know they were there.’
‘What?’ Connor paled. ‘Dan, what are you on about? Are you trying to scare me?’
Daniel shook his head, sharply. ‘No, I’m not, I swear it... I’m sorry,’ he sighed, ‘I’m crap at explaining things.’ The eleven-year-old forced a false smile, before taking a deep, measured breath. ‘Do you trust me, Connor?’
‘Do you trust me?’
Connor shivered, the deep bruise covering his left eye standing out all the more clearly against his ashen face, but the boy managed a stiff nod.
‘I think you’re still in danger here,’ Daniel’s voice dropped. ‘You need to go somewhere safer.’
‘Dan?’ Connor whispered, his eyes watering. ‘What’s happening? What’s going on?’
‘I can’t tell you now,’ the brown-haired boy heard his own voice stutter, ‘but I promise I will, as soon as I can,’ he chose his words carefully. ‘I need you to take Prof… Mr Bennett’s hand.’
Connor’s eyes grew wide. ‘Dan…?’ he echoed.
‘Okay.’ Connor managed, weakly, and his friend let out a loud sigh of relief. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘Sir,’ Daniel glanced back over his own shoulder, catching Greg’s eye and beckoning the teacher towards him. ‘Let’s go.’
As Greg had promised, the Borthwick Ward was ready for their return. The room’s far wall had stretched backwards five yards, allowing another bed to fill the newly-created space, and Lucas Brand’s Muffliato spell hid the crack of the trio’s arrival from the other patients. It was a spell that quickly proved its worth, as the three arrivals did not land smoothly.
The teacher’s plan was to land Connor on top of the new bunk, but unfortunately for the blond-haired boy, the man’s aim was slightly out. They Apparated a handful of feet to one side of the bed, causing the casts on the boy’s legs to come crashing down onto the tiles of the hospital floor before Greg could halt his fall. The teacher’s desperate attempt to help the muggle boy also left Daniel off-balance, and it was all that the other eleven-year-old could do to stumble sideways, over the top of a wooden stool and onto the cold ground.
Without another word, Greg lifted his wand and gently levitated Connor’s stricken body into the vacant bed, ignoring the boy’s alarmed eyes and frantic expression.
‘Dan? Dan?’ Connor yelled, grabbing for the thin white sheets. ‘What’s going on? What’s happening? Dan?’
The brown-haired boy pushed himself to his feet with a grimace, shaking the wrist that had borne the brunt of his heavy landing. ‘Sir…’ he mumbled, ‘how much can I tell him?’
The teacher glanced around. ‘Well, I’ve just Apparated him into the middle of St. Mungo’s, missed the bed I was aiming for and levitated him up into it instead,’ he smiled, thinly. ‘I was talking about dominoes before we left… do you think there’s left standing?’ Greg turned, walking the short distance towards Lucas and Louis as they watched, stunned, from the side of Nathan’s bed. ‘Tell him everything, Dan,’ the teacher decided. ‘Muffliato will cover you.’
Daniel nodded. ‘Thanks,’ he murmured, picking up the wooden stool he had stumbled over and planting it firmly beside his friend’s bed. ‘Connor,’ he began, looking the other boy in the eye. ‘I swear that everything I’m about to tell you is true. I know some of it is just going to sound really fucked up, but I swear it’s all true.’
The blond boy looked suspiciously back at his old friend. ‘Everything?’
‘Yes,’ the other boy confirmed. ‘Everything… and if there’s anything you’re not sure about, just stop me, ask me, I won’t mind.’ He glanced over his shoulder. ‘They can’t hear us, either,’ he tried to reassure his friend. ‘Everything we say is totally private.’
Connor blinked. ‘Where am I?’
Daniel took a long breath. ‘St. Mungo’s Hospital, in London.’
‘St. Mungo’s?’ Connor echoed.
‘Yeah,’ Daniel nodded, ‘it’s the only hospital in the country that treats magical injuries.’
Connor screwed up his eyes. ‘Magic?’ He spluttered. ‘I got hit by a car! There’s nothing magic about that!’
‘I know you did,’ Daniel cut off his friend’s rant, ‘but that’s not what happened to Charlie,’ he gestured to the bunk nearest Connor’s. ‘He got cursed.’
‘Cursed?’ The blond boy raised his voice. ‘What the fuck do you mean, cursed?’
Daniel sighed, reaching for the pocket of his trousers. ‘I guess we’d better start at the beginning,’ he surmised. ‘We’re wizards. Me, Professor Bennett, everyone else here. This is my magic wand.’
Connor’s mouth dropped open, but no sounds came out as his eyes fell, bemused, on the sight in front of him. ‘For real…?’ He managed, moments later, and Daniel nodded.
‘Yeah,’ he tried to smile. ‘You know how I said I was going away to boarding school… well, it’s not a normal boarding school. It teaches magic. That’s how you got here… it’s called Apparation. Professor Bennett’s one of our teachers.’
Connor stared back at the boy he’d known since they had both been at infant school. ‘Just Like Magic, right?’
Connor shook his head, glumly. ‘So… so…’ he stuttered. ‘Does that mean that… Charlie’s friend…?’
‘Yes,’ Daniel’s head dropped. ‘Nathan’s a wizard too. He’s in the other bed. They both got attacked this morning…’
‘Shit,’ Connor swallowed, gingerly feeling the patchwork of bruising across his chest. ‘Does Charlie know…?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Daniel shook his head. ‘I don’t know how much Nathan told him.’
‘No,’ Connor contradicted his friend. ‘Does Charlie know what happened to me?’
Daniel shivered. ‘Yes,’ he whispered. ‘He’d been to visit you twice, whilst you were unconscious. He came on Friday, the day you got hit, after someone tried to get him at his school…’
‘Shit,’ Connor swore again, brushing a lone tear away from his left eye, but only managing to provoke more as he aggravated the angry blue bruise around his eye socket. ‘Sorry…’
‘Forget it, Conn,’ Daniel reached out to take his friend’s hand, feeling the backs of his own eyes beginning to burn. ‘It’s okay, you’re safe here, that’s why we moved you. You’ll get better.’
‘I hope so,’ he bit his bottom lip. ‘Will they?’ Connor nodded towards the other two bed-bound boys.
‘They’d better,’ Daniel insisted, ‘or else the bastard who did it to them is really going to pay.’
The blond boy shuddered. ‘Do you know who it was?’
‘No,’ Daniel had to shake his head, ‘but Professor Bennett and his friend caught the man who attacked Nathan and Charlie this morning.’
‘Your teacher caught them?’
Daniel managed a thin smile. ‘Yeah,’ he glanced back over his shoulder towards the man. ‘He’s not like Miss Linnett was.’
‘Cool…’ Connor acknowledged, before his expression turned grim. ‘The teachers at Gosford are even worse than her.’
‘Really?’ Daniel blinked.
‘Yeah,’ the boy sighed. ‘None of them are bothered about you, none of them give you a chance if you don’t get it straight away…’ He swallowed. ‘I hate it.’ He sunk down onto the pillow, giving up his struggle against his tears.
‘Bloody hell, Connor...’ he shivered. ‘I wish you could come to Hogwarts, too.’
Connor grunted. ‘It’s just for magical people, right? I’m about as magical as a bucket of horse shit.’
Daniel forced himself to suppress a grin. ‘I don’t know, mate,’ he ventured. ‘It’s pretty good fertiliser, isn’t it?’
‘Bugger off, Dan,’ the blond boy stuck his tongue out, but the tone of his voice didn’t carry the same menace that his words implied.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Daniel reasoned. ‘It’s the holidays now, isn’t it? I bet we can try and work something out before we have to go back.’
Daniel and Connor were not the only eleven-year-olds to be waiting nervously that London morning. Across the city, Albus Potter found himself in the same position, slumped on the deep black leather of a swivel chair in the centre of his father’s office.
He had been there before, as a small child, spinning around merrily and admiring the pictures and certificates that covered the office walls. It was a memory that filtered back into his mind now, as his eyes fell onto the single photograph on the man’s desk, a picture that showed the five members of the Potter family two summers before.
‘Albus?’ A door behind the desk creaked open slowly, letting a black-haired man step outwards and into the office.
‘Dad?’ Albus could feel his heart thudding against his ribcage as he spoke. ‘I need to talk to you.’
Author's Note - apologies about the lack of recent updates: blame real life. I now have two weeks of Easter Holiday in which I'm going to be doing very, very little of a productive nature and hence will be able to get lots of Snake Bites written. If we're very lucky, I might even get it finished. Let me know what you think...
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